Nearly two dozen college graduates were dragged or rushed from the stage during University of Florida's spring commencement over the weekend

By Char Adams
May 08, 2018 12:36 PM
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The president of University of Florida has apologized to nearly two dozen students who were “inappropriately” pulled off stage during the weekend’s spring graduation ceremony. But the graduates say the lackluster apology isn’t enough.

“In general, I don’t think I’ve ever been handled in that manner, not even by my parents,” one of the students, Oliver Telusma, said during an appearance on Good Morning America this week. “It’s kind of embarrassing, kind of degrading.”

Telusma was one of many black students who attempted a celebratory dance on the stage after being called to receive their diplomas, only to have a nearby usher cut in and physically drag them from the platform. Several clips of the incident were shared on Twitter, with many users pointing out that the white usher appeared to yank only black students — while non-minority students were seemingly given more time and only slightly rushed off stage.

“I didn’t expect that at all. I definitely felt dehumanized and definitely criminalized,” Nafeesah Attah told NBC News of the situation.

Telusma, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, added to NBC: “The interactions of the marshal were certainly racialized. Because we are black Greek letter organization and those moves are symbolic and important to our organizations.”

In a statement on Sunday, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs acknowledged that the official “inappropriately physically rushed a number of students across the stage.” He apologized and said they would no longer carry out the yanking “practice.”

One day earlier, officials tweeted from the school’s account: “The University is proud of the achievements of every single one of our graduates and regrets that any celebration of the day may have been diminished by those monitoring a graduation ceremony.”

The students told NBC that Fuchs was on the stage, saw the treatment and did nothing.

“It could’ve been minimized by the president simply just intervening and telling him to take it down a notch,” Attah told NBC.

Another graduate, Christopher Garcia-Wilde, said he noticed from his seat that the usher was very aggressive when handling black students.

“It’s a tradition to stroll at graduation if you choose to, and people have been doing this for years,” Garcia-Wilde told The Gainesville Sun. “I was actually too afraid [to stroll] because I saw him shove other people. But my two friends who graduated with me really wanted to do it, so they tried. They both were pushed and one of them got an entire bear hug.”

UF officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.